Once upon a time I was a tardy traveler, running to my gate with minutes to spare. But one day, my habits changed for the better — I became a dedicated early bird, arriving hours before departure. What happened? Well, I discovered the wonders of the Portland International Airport aka PDX. (Yeah, I used “wonder” and “airport” in the same sentence — that should tell you something.)
For seven consecutive years, Travel + Leisure has crowned PDX the best in the nation. But in my book, it’s been the best since I started frequenting it a decade ago.
Why? It goes beyond the basics in a decidedly Oregonian fashion. Rather than functioning simply as a stopover, PDX is truly a destination unto itself.
Sure, mishaps remain an inevitable reality of my flying experience. But I can rest easy knowing that when my novel disappears or the hot sauce I promised to bring my mom vanishes, PDX has me covered. From a craft distillery to a vinyl record label to a mini art-house cinema, here’s why you’ll want to arrive a few hours early for your next flight.
Where to Eat
Price gouging isn’t a thing at PDX. Unlike ordinary airports, all the tasty fare at the Portland International Airport is sold at vetted, street prices. And in true Oregon fashion — it all comes without sales tax.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to grab a bite before security, head to the Clocktower Plaza. Flying Elephants offers freshly prepared salads, sandwiches and soups that are easy to eat on the go or in any of its plush dining booths. Nearby, a cluster of very Portland food carts rotates out every four to six months. Follow the syrupy scents of Beaches Restaurant and Bar for stacks of creme brulee-dipped French toast and other breakfast treats served all day. For travelers with a sweet tooth, Blue Star Donuts makes decadent, gourmet doughnuts with a classic brioche recipe — don’t miss the signature blueberry-bourbon-basil doughnut.
If you prefer an upscale sit-down, James Beard Award-nominated Country Cat is located just beyond the security gates in the North Lobby near Concourses D and E. Try the crispy, cast-iron fried chicken and collard greens — a favorite of hungry travelers looking to chow down before a long flight. Tamale Boy serves authentic Mexican fare in Concourse D, including breakfast chilaquiles doused in red or green salsa, signature tamales wrapped in corn husks and banana leaves, and refreshing glasses of house-made aguas frescas. This bustling corridor of restaurants is also home to Burgerville, the beloved Pacific Northwest burger chain lauded for their commitment to sustainability and locally sourced ingredients. Take a stroll along the quiet concourse connector and make your way to the South Lobby for pastrami sandwiches and boiled bagels at Jewish-style deli Kenny & Zuke’s.
Editor’s note: In 2021 the airport plans to welcome several well-known Oregon food brands, including Portland’s Screen Door, a Tillamook restaurant featuring an ice cream counter, and a bar that pays homage to women in aviation.
Where to Drink
It’s no secret that Portland is a city that prides itself on all things artisanal — third-wave coffee, craft beer and spirits included. Luckily, you can treat yourself to locally roasted beans before and after security gates at Portland Roasting Coffee, which has three locations in concourses C, D and E, as well as another near the Delta ticketing counter.
As you pass through security to enter Concourses A, B and C, you’ll get a sniff of fresh coffee wafting from Portland’s renowned third-wave pioneer, Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Stocked with coffee, cold brew and Roman Candle Baking Co. pastries, the airport location delivers the same stellar menu found in its coffee shops across the country.
Seeking something boozy before takeoff? Stanford’s Restaurant & Bar offers a happy-hour menu every day of the week (and all day Saturdays) with an emphasis on tasty cocktails and affordable snacks, like sweet-onion rings and BBQ-pork sliders. Flying Elephants also serves a wide selection of Oregon-crafted beer by the bottle, as well as Pacific Northwest wine — just remember to consume all liquids before heading through security, or be sure to check it in with your luggage.
Once through security, several breweries are also located amongst Concourses A, D and E, and each offers frosty pints of local beer and traditional pub fare. Beer and wine are also served at many eateries throughout the airport — find a full list here. Have you ever tasted locally crafted spirits in an airport setting? Now you can. In Concourse C, enjoy flights of whiskey, rum, vodka and other spirits in the impeccably designed House Spirits Distillery — the only airport tasting room of its kind in the world.
Where to Shop
Forget tacky stores selling overpriced trinkets. You’ll find legendary Oregon brands and makers in all corners of the airport. Stock up on outdoor gear at Nike and Columbia Sportswear, or purchase a pure wool blanket at Pendleton Woolen Mills. If you’re worried about a lack of luggage space, the store offers patrons free shipping on all orders of more than $250.
For bookworms, Portland’s iconic Powell’s Books has a well-stocked store in the heart of Clocktower Plaza. Hardcovers and paperbacks line shelves in the cozy bookshop, which also sells plenty of Portland-themed souvenirs.
For a plethora of Beaver State goods, head to Made in Oregon, located just a few shops down from Powell’s. You’ll find another Made in Oregon store in Concourse C. The well-curated Timberline Lodge shop in Concourse D peddles Mt. Hood-themed keepsakes such as mountain-shaped candles and T-shirts with imagery from Stanley Kubrick’s canonical “The Shining,” which used the Timberline Lodge for all exterior shots of the film’s fictional hotel. Just landed? You can order ski-lift tickets or season passes directly from the podium at the storefront.
The brand-new Tender Loving Empire in Concourse D is one of the nation’s only in-airport record labels. The small shop is filled to the brim with locally made jewelry, PDX carpet swag, stuffed animals, stylish apparel and, of course, vinyl records. Use the listening station to scope out albums before making your purchase.
While You Wait
Travelers with time to spare won’t go bored thanks to locally inspired entertainment options and convenient services.
Is your beard or mane unwieldy? The Barbers at Clocktower Plaza specializes in haircuts for men with hot-lather neck shaves. Better yet, complimentary shoulder massages come with every cut. If you prefer a full-body massage, chair massage or foot soak, The Dragontree spa provides all three in a surprisingly tranquil setting sure to melt away your stress.
One of the West Coast’s best art-house theaters has opened a 17-seat “micro-cinema” in Concourse C. The marquee-adorned Hollywood Theatre shows a seasonal rotation of shorts from Oregon filmmakers, each with run times of less than 10 minutes. These play on an hour-long loop, are appropriate for all ages and, best of all, are all free. So go ahead: Relax and take a seat.